Independent Child Monitor report provides valuable insights, but its findings are of huge concern.
The Children’s Commissioner, Judge Frances Eivers, said today that the latest Independent Child Monitor report into the performance of Oranga Tamariki, provides valuable insights, but its findings are of huge concern.
Judge Eivers said, “In short - change is too little and too slow, and in some cases things have actually gone backwards. These are not ‘nice to haves’, instead these are things that every child in care has a right to expect and every member of the public would expect to be happening as a matter of course. For example,
- Oranga Tamariki are not always assessing caregivers and their household before mokopuna are placed with them. Almost a third of mokopuna in care were placed before the necessary caregiver assessments were completed.
- Caregivers are poorly supported. Social workers specialising in working with caregivers only made 29% of the visits they were supposed to.
- Reports of concern for children in care aren’t being investigated in expected timeframes, the number of caregiver support plans being reviewed following an allegation being made has dropped, and the number of incorrect ‘no further action’ decisions has also increased.
- This report shows some major concerns for mokopuna Māori and their whanau. Only 13% of tamariki Māori have connections to key people from their marae, hapū or iwi. Only 9% of plans for tamariki Māori include contact arrangements with those key people. Only 5% of plans consider the views of hapū or iwi. And in the past year there has been a 10% decrease in the proportion of tamariki Māori being supported to connect with their marae, hapū or iwi, from 39% to 29%. The report notes that there is a lack of connection and consultation outside the immediate family/whanau group.
“This is important. This is dangerous. Mokopuna are being placed in homes that Oranga Tamariki cannot guarantee are safe. People opening their homes and hearts to our mokopuna are being simply left to ‘cope’. Those raising concerns with Oranga Tamariki cannot be confident that the agency has checked on a child’s safety in time, and as a result that child might be harmed.
“It is unacceptable that the increase in mistakes where concerns about a child are not investigated at all are on the rise. The death of Malachi Subecz demonstrates how dismissing concerns for any child can end in tragedy. Oranga Tamariki says the increase is due to improper recording, rather than any failure to act. Yet how would we know?
“Sadly, these issues are not new. There are a number of issues raised within the report which are in line with previous findings from my office.
“Given the changes to the oversight system, I see my role as an independent advocate for children as critical to ensuring findings of the monitor are assessed and shared publicly. This report demonstrates the ongoing need for a clear, loud, unapologetic voice for our mokopuna and their whanau.”
Judge Eivers acknowledged that some areas are heading in the right direction, such as a focus on building good relationships with mokopuna and whānau, and the importance of having social workers on the ground and working in their own communities. She noted however that these were incremental changes, and while important, we are not seeing sufficient impacts for mokopuna and their whanau.
Judge Eivers said, “The public and decision makers need to know that first and foremost, children’s wellbeing is not being compromised. This report does not make me confident that this is the case.”
Judge Eivers was also highly concerned at the level and quality of the data being provided to the Independent Child Monitor.
Oranga Tamariki were only able to provide data for just over half of the measures requested by the Monitor (181 measures out of 348 requested). Only 90 measures were able to be compared with last year’s figures which is around one quarter. The agency was unable to provide data for some measures it had previously been able to provide data for, such as the prevalence of the use of mental health screening tools.
Judge Eivers said, “Data matters. With the best will in the world the monitor cannot deliver the level of analysis it specialises in, where vital information is either lacking or based on random samples of case files.
“Even more concerning is that this is information that Oranga Tamariki does not hold itself. How can the NZ public be confident the agency is caring appropriately for every child in its care without it even having an understanding of that itself?
“The number of tamariki and rangatahi with disabilities is thought to be underreported, it can’t say whether mokopuna had face to face visits with a social worker or the contact was simply ‘phoned in’, and the agency still cannot report on its own compliance with the National Care Standards. What will it take to get them to focus attention and resources on this and take action?”